Simple, honest food

There aren’t many who’d make radish the star of a dish, writes Julie Jacobson. Time to visit the Hillside…

Jules van Crysen (left) and Asher Boote are at the helm of Thorndon restaurant Hillside 

Asher Boote and his business partner, Jules van Cruysen, opened Hillside Kitchen & Cellar a little over a year ago. The restaurant, in Wellington’s Thorndon, has a prime spot on a street leading to Parliament. It’s a stone’s throw from Premier House and yes, the Prime Minister is a customer.

Each meal is created from the ground up using what’s in season and often lesser-known ingredients

Boote, who trained at Palmerston North’s University College Of Learning (UCOL), has worked in Australia, the UK and Scandinavia, doing time at the Dorchester in London and Michelin-starred Bloom in the Park in Malmö, Sweden. He cites chef René Redzepi of Copenhagen’s Noma as a major influence, and the Nordic aesthetic is recognisable the moment you walk in. Hillside is all light wood and simple design, with a communal table by the large front window.

The minimalist theme extends to the menu, but only in the way it is written. One to three words are all that are used to describe each dish. However, the way the dishes are prepared challenges any preconceived ideas the menu’s simplicity may create.

The concept, says Boote, is about creating meals from the ground up, using in-season produce and highlighting lesser-known or under-utilised ingredients. At Hillside, some of those come from movie mogul James Cameron’s family farms in the Wairarapa, while others, such as wood sorrel, chickweed, samphire and sea spinach, are foraged from the city’s green belt and south coast. 

Boote and head chef Conor Mertens will also buy organic produce if it’s available and their meat is generally free-range or wild game. “It’s about what’s in season and letting nature tell us what to do. We work backwards. A lot of restaurants write the menu and then approach a supplier. We ask our suppliers what they’ve got and whatever that is dictates what we do,” Boote says, explaining their menu changes every three to four days.

You won’t find steak on the menu – “it’s what everyone else does” – but you will find wild game, offal and locally sourced fish, like the tuna that’s caught off the Kapiti Coast then smoked and served fricassee-like with fermented black beans and quail egg. 

Jules van Cruysen is a sommelier and craft beer connoisseur who keeps the Hillside cellar stocked with boutique wines, and he and Boote are unequivocal about their role. They are there to “facilitate a good time” and they don’t do rush: “We want people to stay for two or three hours and enjoy themselves.” 

Step into Hillside and you’re stepping into a moment outside of the everyday, with food that’s delicious by any measure. 

Five things you didn’t know about Hillside

· Boote and van Cruysen met through Pinterest.

· Boote also has The Ramen Shop in Newtown, Wellington.

· Van Cruysen has published book Brewed: A Guide to the Craft Beer
of New Zealand.

· Evening diners get an amuse bouche (before) and petit fours (after) courtesy of the kitchen.

· The Nightshade dish on Hillside’s menu is smoked potatoes, dried eggplant, and new season tomatoes (all from the nightshade family),
with olives and creamy yoghurt.

Brunch/lunch $5 to $17, 2 course $25 ($32 with wine or beer match) Dinner 3 course $55, 4 course $65 (with wine or beer matches add $30, $35). Hillside Kitchen & Cellar, 241 Tinakori Rd, Thorndon, Wellington (04) 473 7140, hillsidekitchen.co.nz.

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